FREEPORT — Fire Chief Darrel Fournier will retire May 6, less than two months after Police Chief Jerry Schofield plans to retire.
Town Manager Peter Joseph said he plans to have a new chief in place by the time Fournier leaves.
A Freeport native, Fournier, 59, started working at the town’s Fire Department in 1970 as a junior firefighter, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1979. In 1981 he became the deputy chief and, two years later, became the department’s first full-time fire chief.
Fournier left the department in 1990 to work as the fire chief in Waterville before returning to Freeport in 1999 to continue in the position he still holds today. He was on medical leave for 11 months last year, but has been back at work since November.
The decision to leave Waterville and come back to Freeport was easy, Fournier said, because he likes working in his hometown.
“Serving in the town you grew up in is probably one of the best parts because you get to help people you know, but that’s also the worst part,” he said. “It makes the tragedies that much tougher.”
Fournier’s interest in fire service began when he was 12 years old and would ride along with his uncle, who was Freeport’s deputy chief.
“That piqued my interest over the years and I was lucky enough to make a career out of it,” he said. “I certainly have fire service in my blood.”
Over the years, Fournier has deepened his interest in fire service through continuing education and also educating himself.
“I was very fortunate that Freeport and Waterville allowed me to continue my education and allow me to be involved at the state level and national level,” he said.
Fournier in 1992 was president of the New England Division of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and in 2011 was president of the New England Association of Fire Chiefs. From 2002-2008 he served on the International Code Council representing New England, and in 2008 helped write the mutual aid law with the statewide mutual aid committee.
In 2002, Fournier was named Maine Fire Chief of the Year.
There have been many rewarding aspects of working in fire service, Fournier said. In 1981, the Holden Block apartment building fire was ruled an arson, but every tenant was saved.
“We were able to rescue 63 people out of that building and no one lost their life or was injured,” he said.
Another memorable experience was traveling to New York in 2012 to work with New York fire chiefs during Hurricane Sandy.
“That was really educational and a worthwhile experience,” Fournier said.
Overall, Fournier said a great part of the job has been the town’s safety record.
“I’ve had a great career and have been fortunate to never have lost any firefighters,” he said.
The biggest challenge of being chief, though, has been staffing, Fournier said. Over the years there’s been a decline in volunteers, and the town has implemented per diem staffing.
An improvement which has developed, though, has been that most firefighters are now trained EMTs as well. Fournier said that was not the case when he started as a firefighter.
Fournier said there are many employees who are qualified to take over as chief, and the town will be searching both within and outside the department for his replacement. Whoever the new chief is, Fournier said they need to understand that the job is “multifaceted.”
“The chief’s job is a very complex and challenging job, but I’m sure there will be a lot of qualified candidates,” he said.
While he said he will miss firefighting, Fournier is ready to spend more time with his family, especially his young grandchildren.
“It’s bittersweet, but this job is a 24-hour-a-day job,” he said. “I’m looking forward to retirement.”
Freeport Fire Chief Darrel Fournier, who has worked in fire service for 42 years, will be retiring May 6.